Search This Blog

Monday, September 9, 2013

We're not Helping When We're Judging.

With a heavy heart I've been following the news and reaction to the attempted murder/suicide by Kelli Stapleton of her autistic daughter Issy, Obviously people are upset and angry and most are seeking to find both answers to how this catastrophe could occur and how we could possibly avoid it happening again. I started to write a post on my thoughts a few days back then hit the wall. Becoming so despondent and frustrated with the anger, the misunderstandings, the rush to condemn, the twisting of words and intentions. I just lost the motivation to offer any length of time and consideration to the subject.

It's suicide prevention day today in Australia, and it was while listening to brave souls tell their experiences on radio talk back it occurred to me the despondency I felt about the pointlessness of sharing my thoughts was similar to the feelings people were explaining about their suicidal ideation. The idea no one is really listening, no one can truly understand your internal struggles. And it struck me the conversations that have ensued since the Stapleton tragedy online have been illustrative of how we often are communicating in ways that perpetuate rather alleviate the potential risk of these terrible events occurring. This is not blaming people for their strong feelings of anger and outrage but simply to ask us all to consider how our words may be inadvertently impacting the vulnerable amongst us.

I saw many commenters online condemning those who shared, possibly for the first time, their own private thoughts of self harm and therefore empathy with Kelly. I saw some calling for any parent who could relate to Kelly to either "get help or put their kids into foster care".  There were many parents who said they could relate to feelings of absolute hopelessness and felt they'd reached a dead end in seeking support for their family. And then a rush by others to chastise them for not focussing on the victim. This dynamic played out on various blogs and web pages over and over again. I'm choosing not to link to those conversations for reasons that may become clear when I explain how this cycle of disclosure and shaming is a major problem. We hold people to account for getting help before they reach breaking point while simultaneously shaming them for sharing their feelings of vulnerability and pain. Can't we see how contradictory these two co existing points of view are?  Tell, but don't tell. Share, but not here. Your feelings are wrong, harmful, shameful, bad. You are empathising with evil.

How can we expect to engender in others faith in reaching out when those who do share their inner fears publicly are berated for them? When we are feeling vulnerable yet dare to open ourselves up we need validation and compassion not derision and dismissal. If any community of people should know this it is ours. Whether you are autistic or love and care for those who are, we all know feelings of being dismissed, of feeling overwhelmed, the frustrations of misunderstanding. We should ideally be more empathic than most. But we aren't. Perhaps that's a measure of the damage done by living in a world that is so harsh to those with autism. Perhaps we double down and harden our hearts in order to make it through. My professional background is in working with trauma, and I see a hell a lot of it in the autism community.  My one wish? If there is any take away lesson from the Stapleton's awful situation it's that we can find a tiny ounce of understanding for each other, even when we disagree. That we will choose to respond to each other in ways that don't further push people into despair.

I'm not suggesting here anyone other then Kelly should be held accountable for her actions, simply asking for some mindfulness when we are interacting with one another online, remembering we don't know how fragile or close to the edge those other people may be feeling.


  1. Always insightful.

  2. I've almost lost a close friend or two to thoughts of self-harm. I am also autistic. And I find the outpouring of sympathy for Kelli much more harmful than the condemnation of her actions. This may sound ridiculous to some, but hear me out.

    I merely ask everyone to consider how it affects us when we see comments like, "She [Kelli] has been given a burden too great to bear." Or: "Her options had turned to Nil. If she could no longer care for Isabelle, then who would?" (Both of these are pulled directly from Facebook.) Consider how it affects us when the attempted murder victim is described in the press as a violent menace, and the fact that she may also be a bright and wonderful girl is only mentioned in passing. Consider how it affects us when news stories focus more on the mother's plight trying to secure services for her daughter and survive Issy's outbursts than the fact that a girl was suffocated nearly to death by the woman she most trusted to protect and care for her. Consider how it affects us when quite a few people--the author of this blog not among them, I recognize--suggest that she should not be prosecuted for murder. And consider how it affects us when we realize that the murderer of a non-disabled person never receives such a preponderance of support and understanding in the court of public opinion as our murderers routinely do.

    Consider the message all of that sends to us. It tells us that our lives might not be worth living in the absence of our parents. It tells us that we are burdens to care for, that the stress of securing services for us is liable to drive our caregivers to homicide. It tells us that we have a hand in our own deaths because of the way we behave. It tells us that some people see some of our lives as tragic and best ended out of mercy --and that they just might be right. It tells us that when one of our own is killed or almost killed, that person isn't quite as worthy of mourning or sympathy as a regular victim, or perhaps isn't even the real victim. It tells us that an act of violence against us doesn't deserve to be taken as seriously as a crime against a non-disabled person.

    It's easy to miss this if you're not one of us and haven't had our experiences. I understand that. And it's probably tempting to write off our concerns as mere hyperbole. But please, abled people, put yourselves in our shoes.

    As for the suggestion to "get help or put their kids into foster care," I can't claim to know the private thoughts of the person who wrote that. I don't know if I would use exactly those words. I do know why I might say something at least somewhat similar--and it has nothing to do with malice toward parents. It has everything to do with protecting kids. If you believe there is a real and imminent possiblity that you might harm your children, your first priority as a parent must be to prevent that from happening. And that necessarily involves separating yourself from them, at least temporarily. It's harsh, it's messy, and it may involve legal battles to determine their future living arrangements. But it's always preferable to them being dead.

    I can understand the call for mindfulness. I'm just saying that it's a two-way street.

    1. Excellent post and a message that needs to be heard. As I write to advocate for victims of abuse, it seriously makes me wonder what on earth our world is coming to when so many people get angry and say I should be 'compassionate' or have 'empathy' for the woman who admitted to trying to murder her daughter. Empathy? Yes, I have empathy and compassion for people who are harmed by others and I get especially disgusted when abusers are catered to by the forgiveness PC crowd who seem completely unaware of how their 'empathy' is harming victims and survivors of abuse, neglect, and in this case --> attempted murder. Again, well written and THANK YOU for speaking up b/c all of the empathethics out there need to see your message!

  3. Yes I agree 100% with you that it's a two way street. I absolutely understand that. The points you make are in no way ridiculous. Thankyou for stopping by Chris.

  4. I want to comment by sharing a link to a website or helpline that offers non-judgmental unconditional support and help to any parent who fears they may harm themselves and their child.
    But this is read internationally so I can't.
    I can only say that when my sister committed suicide, she did it not because she wanted to die, because she wanted a different life. And she could not cognitively plot a way to get that life, in this life.
    I found that very very hard to understand and it still makes me mad, especially when I consider the year I was having when she did it. But throughout my worst days with my son, who went through a period of extreme behaviour resulting in injury to himself, me, his father - my greatest fear was that I would lose him - to residential care.
    Because I was capable of plotting a solution - and demanding help I got it. And almost 12 months later we are enjoying a very very sweet spot of calm. I am knocking on wood as I type this.

    But for people who are not cognitively capable - there has to be a crisis solution. And if you think the best solution for you and your child is ending your lives - you are not in your right mind!

    Losing my son to residential care would have broken my heart, but at the time he was threatening his sister and if he knocked me out, he could have been in great danger himself. So I had to accept it as a potential solution for his sake. It would have broken my fucking heart. But it would have kept us all alive.
    But as I say, I was smart and tenacious enough to plot my way through the services on offer and determined enough to follow through on the behavioural, clinical and environmental solutions that got us to where we are today. We are all alive and doing very well.

    Crisis care needs to be extended from Self harm and Suicide, to potential harm to their children. It needs to get both people into a safe place where there is no fear of arrest or institutionalisation, and it needs to advocate for solutions that the parent can cope with - without judgement. I would rather see a parent give up their child to residential care than feel that they can't live or let them live without them.
    I feel very much for Chris and people like him. All humans have value and if one human cannot care for another, that does not make them less valuable. It means that society has to compensate and give that person extra help and support.


    if you are affected by any of the issues discussed in my post and live in Ireland:

    1. Thanks for sharing LisaMaree, I think your point about not being able to cognitively plot a way out is so important. It really is at the heart of the awful decisions. It's often not a hate crime as people claim.
      As for linking to a crisis service. Ive agonised over this and still haven't yet become convinced about the best link to show. Having been a social worker I'm familiar with so many yet have confidence in so few.